Take action to ensure your heart is functioning optimally.
When you care for your heart, your entire body benefits. As Dr Bianca Vermeulen, a GP at Mediclinic Midstream says, ‘A healthy heart means a better quality of life and simple but effective lifestyle changes can help you avoid, or even slow down heart-related problems.’
‘Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle leads to cholesterol problems, high blood pressure and insulin resistance or diabetes, which are major risk factors for ischaemic heart disease,’ says Dr Annari van Rensburg, a cardiologist at Mediclinic Durbanville. To reduce your risk, you need to:
- maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight, if necessary
- eat healthily
- manage your blood pressure
- lower your blood sugar levels
- quit smoking
- control your cholesterol.
Lose weight and eat healthily
Being overweight can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain, it can lead to a stroke. ‘In addition, carrying weight around your middle can make it harder for your body to use insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose [sugar] levels,’ says Dr Vermeulen. ‘This can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Having high levels of glucose in your bloodstream damages your arteries and increases your risk of heart and circulatory diseases.’ If you’re struggling to shed those extra kilograms, consult a dietician for a low-salt, weight-loss eating plan.
‘Regular exercise helps prevent or manage many health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and many types of cancer,’ says Dr Nic Batev, a general practitioner at Mediclinic Highveld. It also helps your heart muscle become more efficient and better able to pump blood throughout your body. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (a brisk walk, ballroom dancing) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity (swimming, boxing, running, soccer) exercise every week, broken into 10-minute chunks.
Manage your blood pressure
With every heartbeat, your heart pumps blood into your arteries. This exerts pressure on the walls of the blood vessels, which is highest when the heart contracts (systolic BP) and lowest when the heart relaxes (diastolic BP). Get your BP checked as part of your regular check-up at your doctor or closest clinic. A healthy result: Systolic pressure of 120 mmHg; diastolic pressure of 80 mmHg. Warning sign: Systolic pressure of 140 mmHg and/or diastolic pressure of 90 mmHg or higher.
It isn’t just your lungs that are damaged by smoking. The tar and carbon monoxide in cigarettes lead to the build-up of fatty plaque in the your arteries, which is known as atherosclerosis. The build-up of plaque makes it difficult for blood to flow through your arteries and increases the risk of a blood clot, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Monitor your cholesterol
‘High levels of cholesterol lead to clogging of the arteries, compromising the blood supply to your heart and brain,’ says Dr Vermeulen. ‘An optimal balance between high-density lipoprotein (HDL) low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is important. Your goal is to lower your LDL and boost your HDL.’ Speak to your GP about this because if lifestyle changes don’t help, you might require medication.
Doctors agree that protecting your heart might be one of the best health investments you can make.
If you have a niggling health concern, are due for routine tests or have postponed certain procedures and consultations, you can now go to your nearest Mediclinic with confidence or call ER24 on 084 124 for any medical emergency.
To ensure you keep your heart in optimum health, remember to regularly get your essential checkups done. If you haven’t checked your cholesterol and blood pressure lately be sure to schedule these health checks with your GP soon.